SYDNEY - Australia’s platypus is under severe stress as the continent’s prolonged drought dries up river beds, leaving one of the world’s most peculiar animals fighting for its existence, scientists say.
The intensity of Australia’s three-year drought on top of other factors such as land clearing, dam construction and climate change is worsening the survival prospects of the semi-aquatic animal, Gilad Bino, an academic from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), told Reuters on Monday.
“The platypuses are dying in many rivers and the situation seems to be getting worse,” said Bino.
“These are evolutionary relics unique to Australia, and factors such as the increasing frequency and duration of droughts are definitely going to drive many populations to extinction.”
Platypuses are elusive, strange-looking duck-billed animals with web feet that spend most of their time under water. According to their gene map, they are part bird, part reptile and part mammal.
The species is endemic to the eastern Australian region, much of which is tinder-dry after years of drought and has faced months of intense bushfires. It is classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“The ash in the water and the lack of oxygen would have a severe impact on some areas that coincide with platypus populations,” said Bino, who said in a recently published research paper that action must be taken to prevent the platypus from disappearing from Australia’s waterways.
The prolonged drought, intense heat and raging fires have created an ecological disaster in Australia that is threatening several species, including koalas and rock wallabies.
In recent months, academics, rescuers and conservation groups have been fielding calls from people urgently seeking help for animals dying in drying rivers.
Video footage taken by conservation group Aussie Ark show river animals, including platypuses, getting stranded and dying as their habitats dry out.
Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner said the group was struggling to save platypuses stranded in drying rivers in NSW.
“In our region, they are all dead, they are gone,” he told the ABC.
Reporting by Paulina Duran